Wednesday, January 10, 2018

My Last Duchess by Robert Browning is one of the greatest dramatic monologues. The monologue is spoken in the presence of the ambassador of a foreign count whose daughter is being sought in marriage by the widowed duke. The duke reveals his character in the situation when second marriage for him is proposed. He is showing his picture gallery and is standing before the portrait of his last duchess. The basis of his character is the complacent egotism of the aristocrat who regards his wife as his property. He cannot brook -his innocent gaiety and graciousness and extinguishes it summarily.

The poem is remarkable for character-revelations and for condensed and objective descriptions. Browning adopts here one of his favourite methods character-study. In attempting to describe the duchess, the duke succeeds in painting his own narrow and hideous heart. The duke's speech shows his pride and jealousy. His most salient peculiarity is the pride of mere possession of a masterpiece which Browning felt to be a phase of the decadent renaissance. The duke is telling his companion that "the depth and passion of her earnest glance" was not reserved for her husband alone, but the slightest courtesy or attention was sufficient to call up "that spot of joy" into her face. "Her heart" said the duke, "was too soon made glad, too easily impressed". She smiled on her husband (she was her property, and that was right); she smiled on others, and that was a violation of the rights of property which this dealer in human souls could not brook, so he "gave commands", —"then all smiles stopped together". The concentrated tragedy of this line is a good example of the poet's power of compressing a whole life story in two or three words. The heartless duke instantly dismisses the memory of his duchess and her fount of human love is sealed up "by command". The duke's speech shows his pride and jealousy. The duke's greed is represented in the line—"no just pretence of mine for dowry will be disallowed" and his cruelty is shown in the short terribly suggestive line—all smiles stopped together.

The character of the duchess also emerges from the duke's description of her. She is gay and gracious, full of courtesy to all. She is one of those lovely women whose kindness and responsiveness are as natural as sunlight. The duke cannot brook her expansive nature and makes away with her life out of jealousy. The kind and expansive nature of the duchess is a contrast to the narrow and cruel nature of the duke.

Thus the poem is unique in character study. From the point of characterisation, the poem acquires a special distinction. A monologue differs from soliloquy in certain respects. A good monologue is characterised by implied action and implied conversation. The presence of the second character for whom the monologue is intended is suggested. His responses and actions are adequately hinted at. When the duke speaks of the 'officious fool' who brought the cherries and when he says "all, smiles stopped together", then the envoy looks at him with a fearful question in his eyes, but the duke's face immediately resumes its mask of complacency. There is implied action when the duke asks the guest to go down, and as they descend he draws his attention to a fine bronze statue. The poem shows Browning's genius of condensation and objectivity in the presentation of character. The duke's avarice (not just pretence of mind for dowry will be disallowed) and cruelty (all smile stopped together) are as much evident as the depth and passion of the earnest glance of the last duchess.

My Last Duchess as a Dramatic Monologue


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